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Environmental Planning Group

Environmental Planning Issues No.1

May 1993




Barry Dalal-Clayton

Paper presented to the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the International Association for Impact
Assessment (IAIA), Washington, D.C., August 19-22, 1992

ISBN: 1 84369 205 8



This paper argues that the achievement of sustainable development requires, inter alia, the
development of a framework of appropriate 'tools' to aid project, programme and policy development
and implementation. Such a framework could usefully be called 'sustainability analysis'. It is likely to
comprise a harmonised range of existing methodologies, some modified to address changing
requirements (eg, modified EIA procedures to effectively include social, participatory and economic
issues in order to address the key links between environmental impact and sustainable development),
and some new elements (eg, indicators of sustainability). The need for sustainability analysis and
particularly for indicators of sustainability is a key requirement to implement and monitor the
development of national sustainable development plans, as required by Agenda 21 agreed at UNCED
in June 1992.

1. EIA - A Tool in Need of Overhaul

Since its introduction in 1969 in the USA, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has become
widely used as a tool for project analysis. An increasing number of countries are introducing legislation
which requires EIAs for certain categories of development. In line with this trend, bilateral and
multilateral donors have introduced procedures, manuals and guidelines for the environmental
assessment of projects.

In 1985, the OECD introduced recommendations for its members on the environmental assessment of
development assistance projects and programmes, followed in 1986 by recommended measures to
facilitate such EIAs.

Principles for project appraisal were developed in 1988 by the OECD Development Assistance
Committee (DAC) and recommendations were agreed by the OECD Council in 1989 concerning an
environmental checklist for high-level decision-makers in aid agencies. The essence of these various
recommendations has been incorporated within the new DAC guidelines for "Good Practice for the
EIA of Development Projects" (OECD, 1991).

The World Bank has also published recently a very useful three-volume Environmental Assessment
Sourcebook (World Bank, 1991).

However, despite the increasing adoption and formalisation of EIA procedures internationally, EIA is
still seen by many principally as a technical instrument, and it is wrongly assumed by some to be useful
only for application at a relatively advanced stage in the project cycle, or as a disaster- or crisis-
management tool.

This is unfortunate because the potential of EIA is really as an 'attitude' and as a process which can be
applied to all projects and programmes throughout their development and implementation and, with
modification or adaptation, to policies.

EIA has suffered a bad image amongst many of those involved in promoting sustainable development.
This is because the tool has been used inappropriately or on limited components of the sustainable
development system (see Figure 1). Those who have employed EIA have rarely integrated
successfully environmental, social and economic issues - the three most vital components of the
equation. In Figure 1, sustainable development takes place within the central interactive zone (shaded)
between the economic, the environmental/biological and the social/cultural systems. It is subject to a
continual process of trade-offs between these systems. Intuitively, it is evident that development
cannot be sustainable if one of these systems is not incorporated.

In the main, current EIA practice identifies and estimates the environmental impacts of development
projects in physical terms. Techniques of social cost-benefit analysis (SCBA) are sometimes included
in an EIA to widen its terms of reference. These are aimed at assessing the costs and benefits

Figure 1: The Sustainable Development System



A Traditional EIA National Conservation Strategies

Sectoral Natural Resource Strategies

B Social Cost Benefit Analysis Traditional Development Plans

C Some Human Ecology & UNESCO Man and the Biosphere

Anthropology Studies Programme

D Sustainability Analysis (modified National Sustainable Development

EIA) Plans/Strategies
Note: This diagram is illustrative only and is not intended to imply that all EIA and SCBA studies are
narrowly focussed. Whilst current EIA approaches are focussed primarily at the interface between the
environmental and economic systems (eg, the impact of enterprises on habitat), it is recognised that other
forms of EIA have incorporated some social dimensions.
environmental impacts) in monetary terms as far as possible, and in qualitative terms where this is not
possible. But SCBA techniques have largely been developed independently of EIA, although the
demarcation lines between them are often blurred. As Lee (1991) points out, "some SCBA studies
have to ignore environmental impacts or express them in physical units, where monetary measures are
unavailable", whilst some EIA studies include "employment and other socio-economic impacts
Alongside the environmental impacts". Whilst SCBA has been used as a valid tool for assessing the
social and economic 'worth' of project or policies, the quantification of the costs and benefits of
environmental impacts is often (some might say usually) not undertaken, mainly due to the
insufficiency of required data and to continuing controversy over some of the techniques available.

However, it is not always easy to compare environmental, social and economic impacts. Lee (1991)
quite correctly asks, "how should the overall environmental impact of development be evaluated - or
how can the aggregate environmental impact be compared with the economic and social impacts when
reaching a decision on a project ?". It is argued by some that the task is greatly simplified by
expressing environmental impacts in monetary terms whilst others find monetary valuation
unacceptable and argue that other means are required.

The prominence that this debate has now achieved arises due to several factors, including recent
advances in the methodology of monetary valuation (e.g., OECD, 1989; Pearce et.al.,1989; Winpenny,
1991) and official encouragement for the use of monetary valuation (World Bank, 1991; Department
of the Environment, 1991).

Admittedly, EIAs carried out in the last few years - what we might call 'new generation' EIAs - are
giving more attention to social issues. But, whilst public consultation is now a recognised norm in full
EIAs, EIAs are rarely conducted in a truly participatory way, and project beneficiaries are seldom
involved adequately in the process. Although EIAs are being extended to include measures of the
damage costs associated with adverse environmental impacts, comprehensive monetary valuation and
economic analysis of environmental costs and benefits are seldom included (Barbier, et.al., 1991).

There is, however, a widening recognition of the urgent need to modify EIA approaches, to place
greater emphasis on its practical application, and to address the links between EIA and sustainable
development. It has to recognised, however, that EIA alone cannot make development sustainable
although "it can help push decision- makers along the path towards sustainability" (Clarke, 1991). EIA
will be an important tool in the 'kit bag' required to back up the development of national sustainable
development plans.

2. National Sustainable Development Plans

One of the main outcomes of UNCED was ratification of Agenda 21 which set priorities for achieving
sustainable development. Real action, particularly in the context of international conventions and the
priorities contained in agenda 21, takes place at the local and national level. This is where there is
knowledge, concern, involvement and the capacity to act. This is where the focus of strategic planning
processes should lie. It is a major encouragement, therefore, that Agenda 21 rightly recommends that
translation of its priorities for action be focussed at the national level through sustainable development

Planning for sustainable development at the national level is nothing new, of course. There are many
different approaches, many of which are advocated by different aid agencies in different contexts (see
Box 1).
Box 1: Some examples of national planning approaches

§ National Conservation Strategies, led by IUCN;

§ National Environmental Action Plans, led by the World Bank;
§ National Tropical Forest Action Plans, led by FAO;
§ National Plans to Combat Desertification, led by UNEP/UNSO;
§ National Energy Assessments, led by the World Bank;
§ Economic-cum-environmental development planning, led by the Asian Development Bank;
§ A variety of environmental strategies and country environment profiles prepared by bilateral aid donors;
§ The UNCED national reports on sustainable development.

To this list may shortly be added the "national plans" that will arise out of the international climate and

It can be assumed that the proponents of each of the various approaches listed in Box 2 will be
promoting them vigorously as 'the way' towards sustainable development planning. Some of the
initiatives listed have enjoyed considerable success. A number of them aim to deal with the wide range
of issues implicit in the concept of sustainable development. But again, it needs to be recognised that
most are weak on environmental economics and whilst they usually purport to be participatory and
country-oriented, they tend, in fact, to be driven largely by outside agencies (Sandbrook et.al.,1992).
Many of the approaches overlap in subject and geographical scope, and some have been duplicated in
the same country.

An analysis of the documents on any one country arising from these national initiatives indicates that
they have used essentially the same data, but rarely have the results of any public consultations been
included. Their preparation usually involves foreign consultants talking to the same people in the
governments who, in turn, have to meet conflicting demands (by aid donors). On occasion, there is also
an element of 'green conditionality' involved, as the preparation of a plan or a strategy document is
linked to the release of aid funds.

There will be much to learn from an analysis of the successes and failures of aspects of all of these
approaches, and such a review would greatly assist the further consolidation of efforts towards
national and sub-national processes for sustainable development.

3. Tools for National Processes

To ensure the promotion, implementation and monitoring of national processes leading to the
development of national sustainable development plans will require the harnessing, further development
and packaging of appropriate 'tools' which can aid project and programme development, and assist the
setting of policy frameworks. Some examples of the tools which are likely to be important are listed in
Box 3.

It has to be acknowledged, however, that these are wide ranging and it is, as yet, far from clear how
readily they can be integrated. But the harmonising of appropriate tools, with modification where
required, into a framework or suite (which we could usefully term sustainability analysis) is
fundamental to operationalising sustainable development.

As a framework, sustainability analysis should be applicable across the spectrum from the project to
the policy level. But different techniques or combinations of techniques are likely to be appropriate
according to the level involved and the question at hand. For example, whilst resource accounting and
social cost benefit analysis (SCBA) have each been applied at both the policy and project level, the
former is less appropriate at the project than the policy level, whilst SCBA is more appropriate at the
project level.

The focus for sustainability analysis is to develop the menu of tools (integrated where possible) that
can be applied, as appropriate, for particular problems. The integration of tools will not be
straightforward. In some cases, integration may be more successful between tools applicable at a
given level rather than across levels. An important challenge is to investigate how project level analysis
can feed into policy analysis.

Many of the tools listed in Box 2 have been used widely at the project level. They have been applied
less at the programme level and only a few of them (notably techniques of environmental economics)
for policy analysis. Moreover, they have often been applied independently of each other by specialists
whose experience and work regime seldom overlaps. Furthermore, some have also been misapplied -
as the wrong tool or combination of tools for particular jobs or for producing policy-relevant results.

It will be important to set the boundary conditions for sustainability analysis. Initially, a wide range of
tools and options will need to be considered, but it will be necessary to provide a focussed approach
that can be of practical value to those needing to apply the techniques.

In considering sustainability, issues of reversibility need to be taken into account. A sustainable project
may become unsustainable as a result of an intervention or impact, but through mitigatory action can
be made sustainable again. It also needs to be recognised that 'sustainability' cannot be represented by
a level line on a graph. Sustainability is a dynamic phenomenon and will fluctuate. An important
objective will be to set acceptable limits for fluctuation.

Box 2: Some tools for project and programme development and

for policy framework setting

§ Environmental assessment
§ Indicators of sustainability
§ Social impact assessment
§ Participatory rural appraisal & monitoring
§ Techniques of environmental economics (e.g. social cost-benefit analysis, economic policy analysis,
resource accounting
§ Agro-ecosystem analysis
§ Land evaluation techniques
§ Integrated resource management
§ Ecosystem analysis (eg, agro-ecosystem analysis, marine ecosystem analysis)
§ Ecological/physical monitoring
For each tool, there will be a need to consider:

§ Its appropriate use

§ The appropriate user
§ The institutional framework required (including the decision-making framework)
§ The implications of using the tool
§ How successful it has been in practice
§ What research is needed for tool development
§ What other tool(s) it combines well with

4. Modified EIA - a Tool Reforged

A strong case can now be made to modify existing EIA practices to draw effectively from
methodologies of social impact assessment, participatory appraisal procedures and environmental

There is already a clear indication that many environmental advisers working in bilateral and
multilateral development agencies would support such a modified approach. But the quantum
leap required to move from conventional EIA to a wider and more comprehensive approach
encompassing genuinely the environmental/biological, social and economic aspects on an equal basis -
as envisaged by sustainability analysis, could not be achieved in a short time frame. The development
and testing of a practical and usable suite of harmonised methodologies would take time. Therefore,
we should consider modified EIA procedures as a practical incremental approach.

Modified EIA procedures might best be developed on a sectoral basis at first, focusing on selected key
problems with significant social and economic dimensions as well as environmental implications. IIED,
for example, is now pursuing this approach in a research programme focussing on modified EIA for
hydropower dams, irrigation schemes, refugees and displaced peoples.

It is suggested that such an issue based strategy will facilitate an iterative approach, building on lessons
learned, and will provide a means to test and demonstrate the utility of a modified approach to EIA.
This will enable the incremental approach towards developing a full framework for sustainability
analysis. In due course, sectoral guidelines for modified EIA will need to be considered by donor
agencies and governments.

5. Indicators of Sustainable Development

It is well recognised that environmental indicators are vitally needed to capture trends in ways that
policy makers and others can grasp immediately. As Mathews and Tunstall (1991) have pointed out, "
economic planning would be unthinkable without GNP figures, unemployment rates, and the like; so
would social planning without such indicators as life expectancy and rates of fertility, infant mortality
and literacy. Yet, environmental policymaking has no comparable measures today". New indicators are
needed to guide policymakers in their assessment of environmental quality and to enable the integration
of environmental, economic and social concerns for sustainable development planning. Such indicators
will be a vital ingredient in the development and monitoring of national sustainable development plans.
They will also be a key tool in sustainable analysis.

There have been some suggestions of indicators of sustainability for individual sector or ecosystems
(eg, ITTO, 1991), and others have suggested indicators for sustainable development in general (e.g.,
Mathews & Tunstall, 1991 - Table 1; Holmberg, et.al., 1991, Table 2). But these are still far from
However, it will be extremely important to avoid focussing on indicators that are difficult or impossible
to measure in developing countries. Simple and practical indices are required.

Those suggested in Table 1 provide a useful starting point. They are less post-hoc than the quantitative
indicators listed in Table 2, focussing on Clarke's (1991) 'path towards sustainability'. They provide
qualitative and 'barometric' measures which encompass practical and legitimate targets, i.e. they give a
flavour of what sustainable development would look like. In this regard, they are more easily monitored
than the 'harder' indicators of Table 2 and are more condusive to participatory monitoring by citizens

GDP is perhaps the most used 'hard' measure of development, but it fails to allow for capital
maintenance of natural assets and takes limited account of the contribution of the environment to
economic activity. As a consequence, this measure might actually discourage the implementation of
sustainable development policies, particularly in countries with an economy which is heavily dependent
on the use of natural resources.

Holmberg (1991) has suggested a typology of the indicators that might be considered:

§ Environmental indicators - measuring changes in the state of the environment. These indicators
should be simple and practical, easily read and understood by decision makers, and might best be
expressed in non-monetized, physical terms, placing an emphasis on rates of change (e.g., rates of
depletion of fish stocks or forest resources). They should be based on data that is readily Available
in common data sources.

§ Sustainability indicators - measuring the distance between that change and a sustainable state
of the environment;

§ Sustainable development indicators - measuring progress towards the broader goal of

sustainable development in the national context.

The development of these indicators will require careful consideration of a number of methodological
issues related to qualitative variables, such as the performance of institutions.

In terms of this typology, the indictors listed in Box 3 are clearly sustainable development indicators
whilst those in Table 1 are actually a mixture of environmental and economic indicators.

Some people would argue that the bureaucratic mode of many donors and governments could not cope
with a multiplicity of separate environmental indicators and that a single or 'collapsed' indicator would
Table 1: A few indicators of sustainable development

Many of the following indicators avoid the need for a long time series of data, or of having to define
sustainability quantitatively, by merely asking if things are getting better or worse. As such, they are suitable for
participatory methods of monitoring (10.3.3).


• Per capita resources consumption, for a given standard of living, is dropping;

• The proportion of non-renewable energy usage in primary production is diminishing, while renewable
sources, such as solar or human energy, are increasing: and sectors using non-renewable forms of energy
are investing significantly to develop and apply technologies that will use renewable forms;
• Passenger kilometres travelled by public transport are increasing in proportion to those travelled by private
motorized transport;
• There is a progressive increase in both official incentives to use renewable energy and disincentives to use
non-renewable forms;
• There is an increasingly free flow of technology, especially to poor countries.


• Development activities seek to maintain ecological processes (soil fertility, waste assimilation, and water and
nutrient cycling) and not to exceed the capacity of these processes;
• Development increasingly depends upon and conserves a growing range of genetic material, not only the
different species but the varieties within species;
• Renewable resources are increasingly used and harvested at rates within their capacity for renewal;
• More and more areas of high value for their irreplaceable environmental services are not only being set
aside, but are being effectively managed, with secure funding.


• Economies - especially those that depend upon high-volume natural resources data - are diversifying,
especially towards high-value information and service industries;
• There are growing numbers of formal mechanisms to integrate environmental and development concerns,
and to insert environmental values in prevailing systems of economic policy, planning and accounting;
• More accurate and representative economic indicators are being introduced to measure sustainable
development, so that the currently dominant concerns of consumption, savings, investment and government
expenditures are increasingly joined by measures of natural resource productivity and scarcity;
• More methods are being introduced for valuing use by future generations, for comparing such use to
today's needs and for making equitable trade-offs between generations;
• Flows of resources to and from a given country are increasingly stable and equitable, and do not result in
severe net depletion of the national resource base;
• Both the incidence and the effects of "boom and bust" are diminishing;
• There are both regulatory measures that ensure that resource limits are not exceeded, and enabling measures
that encourage voluntary improvements in technology to make more sustainable use of resources within
those limits;
• Environmental monitoring is regularly and effectively carried out, and both policies and operations are
adjusted to suit;
• Military budgets are decreasing in relation to budgets for work to ensure environmental security and
sustainable development.

The notion of resource limits, and the need for sustainability in production and livelihood systems, is
increasingly prevalent in a society's values, embodied in its constitutions and inherent in its education systems

• The community is becoming more diverse in terms of skills and enterprises, and yet remains coherent as a
• There is a growing body of commonly held knowledge and available technology for maintaining a good
quality of life through sustainable activities;
• There is a tendency towards full employment, good job security and household stability;
• Increasing numbers of people have access to land adequate for sustaining good nutrition and shelter for
their families and/or adequate, reliable incomes to pay for these necessities;
• The costs and benefits of resource use and environmental conservation are more equitably distributed:
consumers increasingly choose to pay for goods and services that are resource-efficient and minimize
environmental degradation;
• Conflicts over land and resource rights are diminishing;
• People who once relied upon unsustainable activities for their livelihood are being supported in their
transition to sustainable activities;
• Development is increasing people's control over their lives, the range of choices open to them and the
knowledge to make the right choices: it is compatible with the culture and values of the people affected by it,
and contributes to community identity.

Source: Holmberg et.al. (1991)

be preferable. It has to be admitted that this argument has some logic, particularly given that much
data is of poor quality, that individual indicators provide a limited impression of the overall
environmental situation in a particular country, and that not all indicators will apply to all countries (for
example, all countries will have a literacy rate and a GDP, but not all will have a rate of deforestation).

Daly and Cobb (1989) have suggested an index of sustainable economic welfare which includes
environmental components but is much broader. This index might usefully be refined with time, using
the above typology, into an index of sustainable development.

The relative merits of a range of separate indicators and single indices will need very careful
consideration. But the key guide in our framing of operational recommendations for sustainable
development must be simplicity.
Table 2: some environmental and economic indicators of development
1985-90 1985-89 1991 1989 1988 Mid-1980s Annual Rate 1989 1990 Soil
Population GNP Human Energy Con- Carbon Production of Defores- Protected Water Use Erosion
Growth Growth Development sumption Emissions of Hazard- tation [e] Areas (% of (metric
Rate (%) Rate (%) Index [a] [b] [c] (metric ous Wastes (hectares) (% of available tons per
(gigajoules tons per [d] (metric country) supply) hectare
per capita) capita) tons) per year)

Algeria 3.12 1.7 0.490 27 0.7 X 40,000 [f] 0.2 16 X

Botswana 3.51 11.4 0.524 X 0.4 X 20,000 [f] 17.7 1 X
Brazil 2.07 3.9 0.759 23 0.4 X 1,380,000 2.4 1 X
China 1.39 7.9 0.614 24 0.6 X X 0.8 16 X
Costa Rica 2.64 4.6 0.876 15 0.2 X 42,000 12.0 1 X

France 0.36 3.2 0.971 116 1.6 2,000,000 X 8.2 18 X

Haiti 1.88 (0.6) 0.296 2 0.0 X 2,000 0.3 0 X
India 2.08 5.8 0.308 8 0.2 36,000,000 48,000 [f] 4.4 18 75 [g]
Jamaica 1.52 5.3 0.761 25 0.6 X 2,000 0.0 4 36 [h]
Mexico 2.20 0.9 0.838 49 1.0 X 595,000 2.9 15 X

Nigeria 3.43 2.9 0.242 6 0.1 X 300,000 1.1 1 14 [g]

Peru 2.51 (0.2) 0.644 15 0.3 X 270,000 4.3 15 15
Rwanda 3.40 (0.4) 0.213 1 0.0 X 3,000 10.5 2 X
Sau. Arabia 3.96 1.5 0.697 186 3.5 X X 0.4 106 X
Sier. Leone 2.49 2.3 0.048 2 0.0 X 6,000 1.4 0 X

Spain 0.38 5.3 0.951 73 1.3 1,700,000 X 5.1 24 X

Sweden (0.03) 2.4 0.982 149 1.8 500,000 X 4.1 2 X
Thailand 1.53 10.2 0.713 19 0.3 X 158,000 9.1 18 X
USA 0.82 3.3 0.976 297 5.3 265,000,000 159,000 [f] 8.6 19 10 [h]
Zimbabwe 3.15 3.6 0.413 20 0.5 X X 7.1 5 50 [g]
Source: Mathews & Tunstall (1991) using data from the United Nations, World Bank, World Conservation Monitoring Centre, World Resources Institute
Notes [c] Figures include carbon from energy consumption and other industrialized sources.
X = Not available. O = Zero or less than half the unit of measure. [a] The Human Development [d] Hazardous wastes are not defined consistently from country to country. [e] All figures are
Index, constructed by the UNDP, combines, in one number, a measure of economic, educational, from the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations for the 1980s, except the
and health deprivation. Countries above 0.8 are considered to have high human development; following countries, which come from national sources for the years indicated: Brazil, 1990 (legal
0.5 to 0.8, medium development; and below 0.5, low development. [b] Energy consumption Amazon only); Costa Rica, 1973-89; India, 1983-87; and Thailand, 1985-88. [f] These figures
includes traditional fuels. include open and closed forests; all others are for closed forests only. [g] Figures are for seriously
affected cropland only.
[h] Figures are for total cropland.

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